What even is an “important book”?

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A while back I was watching a great video by Alexa Donne on how you don’t need to write an important book- which I highly recommend checking out if you need a pep talk. But it made me think: what even is an important book?

At the risk of rehashing a lot of the discussion there, I’d agree that it’s often used in marketing for issues books. And, I’d also go as far as to say, much like the literary fiction label, it’s also a way of slapping a “this is worthy” tag on a book.

My first order of contention with the very idea of an “important book” is how much genre snobbery comes into play here. Because generally speaking, it’s going to be mostly contemporary (and very occasionally historical fiction) that gets this moniker. We might even see a sci fi getting talked about this way… buuut only if it’s dystopia. And my beloved fantasy? Forget about it. Doesn’t matter if it shines a light on the true horror of war or explores deep psychological themes- it’s just never going to be talked about in the same way.

More concerning to me is how this is often framed. As Donne said “what’s important for one person might not be important for another”. And this couldn’t be more true. We all know that books are such a personal experience: a book that touches us and proves important could really fit into any category. Regardless of whether a book covers an important issue, it can become important in someone’s life. On the flipside, a book that covers topical issues can feel irrelevant or be something an individual doesn’t connect with. Claiming a book has “importance” in such a context seems a little meaningless, don’t you think?

However, I also think this goes deeper and touches on a more significant issue. In the vast majority of cases, I see books and stories that are deemed “important” are on the same narrow range of topics. For instance, I have read countless literary books about the struggles of a working or middle class person to fit in with the upper class… which, surprisingly, isn’t super relatable for most working or middle class people, despite how often it’s portrayed in stories 😉 Not that there is a deliberate conspiracy going on- just that, as carefully curated as a list may be, it will always be subject to human decision making and a natural tendency to trend-chase. The problem for me isn’t just that these books are samey or that the topic is “unrelatable” (as I’ve mentioned previously, that doesn’t necessarily matter), it’s that it leaves so much space for *other* important topics that never get discussed. Especially injustices that that may seem hard to package in a palatable way or are too sensitive to be touched. And this is not to say there should be less of a certain kind of story, just that sometimes I think the focus of what is “important” could be broadened a little.

whole world in my hands

And, perhaps most controversially, I’d also say that being “important” or someone’s “magnum opus” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good. There’s still that pesky matter of taste to contend with; there’s the possibility it was published to chase a trend. And, worst of all, there’s the potential for it to be tryhard and cringy and moralising… which can all be painful to read! I guess the only positive here is that calling a book “important” doesn’t give you any real hint as to its quality.

So, all in all, I’m not sure how helpful I find the term… even if I’ve used it myself in an offhand way 😉 Obviously, it’d be the pot calling the kettle black if I critiqued every usage- nonetheless I’m finding myself more sceptical by the day about whether any books are more important than others.

What do you think? Do you find the term “important book” useful? If so, why? I want to hear what you think in the comments!

How Dead is the Author Anyway? Notes on Authorial Intent and Reimagining Canon

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As an English Lit grad, it can be no surprise that I have a deep fascination for the subject “Death of the Author”. Briefly, Roland Barthes concept is that an author’s intentions and biography don’t have special weight in determining interpretation of their work. For me, I’ve floated back and forth over the years, drifting in the uncomfortable in-between of whether I should eddy these waters with my own pen. In the end, I was inspired by Rachael’s excellent “Is the Writer Dead or Not?” post to finally discuss it.

Now, I’ll admit, I’m hesitant to wholly get behind the theory. Dare I say it, part of this is because sometimes I think it gives too much credit to reader- as marvellous as we may be at finding bookish gems, a book’s value is not determined by whether its read (after all, as a tree falling in a forest with no one around to hear it still makes a sound, a brilliant book that never gets read is still technically brilliant. It’s the law of physics 😉). My silly quasi-philosophical musings aside, I do however see the value in “Death of the Author” (or I wouldn’t be discussing it 😉). Though a writer’s background and intentions shouldn’t be totally discounted, ultimately books should be open to interpretation. Looking at books from this angle is the most freeing. It gives readers the power to find meaning without being handheld along the way.

Another reason this theory is helpful, as Rachael brought up, is that it helps us separate an author from their work. As I’ve previously discussed, I’m a big fan of judging a work on its own merit, rather than writing it off because I don’t like the author. While I respect anyone’s right to choose what they read, I prefer not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

And, as I’ve said recently, there are limits to interpretation- any interpretation. Both in the case of authors retconning their own work and when authors definitively say “*this* is what I meant by that”. Not necessarily because an author can be wrong about their intent- but they most certainly cannot say whether they were successful in conveying what they meant or whether an individual will interpret it differently. the dressFrankly, the 2015 tale of THE DRESS (where some people saw blue/black and others saw white/gold) tells us that we literally do not see the world the same way. Thus, an author cannot demand we see exactly what they intended to emphasise and dismiss what they did not want us to see at all. The messages that hit home may not be what they thought; the way we view their characters might not be a reflection of what was in their heart… and that’s okay. Once a book is out in the world, it’s going to take on a life of its own. Authorial intent ends when a story walks out the door and reaches new readers.

Of course, I feel that an author can give interpretations of their own work (though I’d personally prefer if they’d couch it in terms of “it could mean” instead of “I meant it to mean”). However, I am loath to call later additions and commentary “canon”. Like any other reader, I’m going to want proof of their claims; I’m going to expect them to say more than “it was there all along”. Interpretation has little value without textual evidence. Rewriting a book in retrospect is not only irritating, it undermines the fabric of the existing text. It muddies truths with lies. And it is also a sure-fire way to lose your reader. In that regard at least, I can safely say the author is dead to me.

So, what do you think? Is the author dead or alive? Let me know in the comments!

It’s Okay to be Wrong! The Importance of Interpretation and its Limits…

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Though of course I never am 😉

Just kidding! What I do think is that opinions are not set in stone and that we’re not always going to be right. And that’s okay- as nice as it would be to be the arbiters of truth, part of the joy of discussing books is finding out what we don’t know, otherwise what would be the point of having a discussion?

Now that we’ve established that, I can safely say there are *loads* of ways to be wrong (what a happy thought 😉). Years ago, I made a post about how I don’t like when people say “read between the lines” as an explanation for why they have a bookish theory, which is akin to saying “I don’t have a real argument for this, just go with it”. And, as fun as it is to come up with things on the fly, that’s just not going to cut it. You need evidence to back up your points; you must prove it (otherwise smart alecs like me won’t buy what you’re selling 😉).

Mean-Girls-GIF-Cady-Heron-Lindsay-Lohan-Falls-In-Trash-Can1The problem that arises is how easily “reading between the lines” can fall into pitfalls. One of the most obvious ways is how it can contradict canon- such as claiming a character is gay without textual evidence of this. Of course, I’m not saying don’t write/enjoy fanfic, only that this may not be a strong interpretation of the actual text and can lead down a bad path analytically. Good evidence is important.

Though I veer towards the side of “Death of the Author” (more on that another time) I also think that what is in the text matters. There is such a thing as going too far with an interpretation- especially to the point where it contradicts common sense. thinking monkeyI’ve seen and heard enough crackpot theories over the years to have a healthy scepticism when I hear a new one. Not every line break in a poem is deep and meaningful; not every adjective/verb/noun is worth focusing on (something Rachael points out in her brilliant “Is the Author Really Dead?” post).

Even authors can be wrong about their own work. On the one hand, while they won’t be wrong about authorial intent, they may not realise the impact their techniques can have and cannot definitively say whether they achieved what they set out to. Plus, we all know the authors who just-so-happen to reinterpret their own work to make it seem more “woke” 😉. Shoddy and (dare-I-say-it) attention-seeking interpretations like these perhaps shouldn’t be taken too seriously. After all, the point of interpretation is a search for the truth, not trying to be “on trend”, or show off, or please ourselves.

None of this is to say that interpretation isn’t important, just that it’s better to take it with a pinch of salt (and maybe let it simmer a bit before you gorge yourself on it 😉). Whether it’s the author saying it or it comes endorsed by a literary scholar, every criticism needs to be approached with a degree of caution. And that goes for our own views too!

Yes, being reflective of our own views may not be so fun, questioning can make us uncomfortable and knowing we might be shot down is terrifying. Yet, in the great quest for the truth, we need to be prepared to make bad guesses and put ourselves out there. As wonderful as it would be to be right all the time, we need the courage to be wrong sometimes too.

So, what do you think? Are all interpretations valid? Or is it okay to be wrong? And, dare I ask, are you okay with being wrong? Let me know in the comments

Why I don’t believe in unbiased reviews

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Controversial opinion time: my subjective opinion is *subjective*. Okay, just kidding, that’s not really debatable (even if it is fun to see people trying to debate that). However, I’m not here to talk about how silly it is to try and dictate taste today- no, right now I want to talk about why it’s okay to have biased reviews (which is probably a lot more of a contentious statement).

Let me explain. It’s not just that being opinionated is unavoidable in a review- though since we’re all human (/sentient primates) that is the case- it’s that it’s actually desirable to share your opinions. As Lashaan brilliantly said in his post “how objective are your reviews”, being subjective actually helps readers to figure out whether we might dislike or like a book. The main point of a review isn’t just to get across a sense of what happens in a book- that’s what a synopsis or blurb is for. No, reviews are to help us make value judgements over whether we want to read something or not. And that can only happen if we’re in touch with our own thoughts and feelings about a book.

Now, of course, that means we have to be aware that we’re being subjective. In Rachael’s excellent post, “How to Not Suck at Reviewing in Five Easy Steps”, she pointed out how it’s necessary to compartmentalise our own emotions and identify when we’re being subjective. It’s no good, for instance, to just say “well that was rubbish” and leave it at that. We have to be reasoned in our approach to reviewing. If we say we don’t like something, preferably it should be done in a way that other people can make up their own minds (and also not to shame other people for liking it). Even better if we can state our own biases to explain where we’re coming from; best of all if we can go as far as to recommend it to people who might actually like it. There’s nothing inherently wrong with being biased, we just have to remember not everyone will share our view.

Throne_of_Glass_UKFor me, the only issue would come from stating an opinion as fact. Elliot Brooks argued brilliantly in her video “Book Lovers Love Book Hate” that claiming a book is “objectively bad” doesn’t make much sense- I mean, we already know it’s your opinion, so how can it be objective? Too often I have seen this on Booktube as well- especially with regards to reviews of Sarah J Maas books- which I have always found especially illuminating. One complaint, for instance, that regularly arises is that the ellipsis (or otherwise known as fragmentation) is “objectively bad”… which, sorry to burst anyone’s bubble, isn’t the case. As discussed in my post “the Art of Fragmentation”, the technique has many uses that can be appreciated whether you enjoy it or not.

tasteIn fact, this is the entire reason I created my Differences in Style series. What works for one reader may not work for another- and that’s okay! Once again, taste is subjective and therefore so are reviews. Maybe we’ll agree, maybe we won’t- regardless it’s not the end of the world. That’s the beauty of an opinion.

So, I really want to hear what you think! Do you agree or disagree with me here? Does it matter that reviews are subjective? Or should we be striving to be more objective? Is that even possible or desirable? Let me know in the comments!

Dusting Off Old Projects

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This time last year, I talked about shelving old projects and letting dead projects lie. Now I’m resurrecting the topic… to turn it on its head. Because, unexpectedly, one thing I came away thinking is that maybe sometimes it’s a good idea to step back into bad old writing.

it's aliveBurnt out from editing and not ready to start a new project, I decided to go back to an abandoned story. I knew that there were parts I liked and parts I didn’t. To put it simply, I took a duology, cut, hacked and stitched it together to make one Frankenstein MONSTER BOOK. Now, this isn’t a fairy tale (after all, we’re talking about some serious necromancy here!) I doubt me and the book will wind up happily ever after 😉 I may end up having rewritten it just to shelve it again.

monster book of monstersHowever, what I am happy to say is I had fun with my little fling. Playing around with it reminded me why I wrote it in the first place and made me want to write more. I realised I could take time out to work on something just for me (just as long as it doesn’t devour all my time 😉 ).

grave robbingMost surprisingly of all, it was a learning curve. Not only could I see the massive development in my writing, I realised I could still learn new tricks from old projects. I ended up thinking how much I could ransack from the project for future stories and where I could improve elsewhere. Sure, this may seem like graverobbing (cos it is a bit), but I also saw this as an opportunity to create a whole new life aka more stories! 😉

I’m not completely turning my back on my previous post. Not every story is meant to see the light of day buuut maybe it doesn’t have to be shut up in the dark either. So, I guess the message here is that you don’t write anything off…

What do you think about dusting off old projects and old ideas? Do you like to resurrect bits here and there? Or do you think you should let dead things lie? Let me know in the comments!

Why do I struggle to DNF?

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I’ve talking a bit lately about how to DNF and books I’m glad I DNF’d, but I haven’t actually got into why I find it so hard. With this discussion, I’ve been wondering if it’s always a mistake to DNF or (equally) if it’s a bad idea to keep going. So I’ve written a list of reasons why I struggle to DNF. Some of these reasons are good… some not so much- let’s get into them…

dune#1 FOMO– this is probably the biggest one for me personally. There are so many books out there that are acclaimed or a BIG DEAL in some way- and I can never quite forgive myself for not liking each and every one of those (ridiculous, I know! but that’s why I’ve powered through books like Dune, despite not liking the writing style from the start) A huge part of me always wants to know what the fuss is about and doesn’t like the idea that I’m somehow not getting everything I could out of books. If this is my sole motivator for continuing with a book I’m not interested in or don’t like, I’m just going to have to learn to let go.

mrs dalloway#2 Because I like to persevere. For me personally, I have a very positive association with perseverance. I like to see things through, no matter what. So, if I give up on a book, I feel ridiculously guilty. It even makes me pick up books again, like  Mrs Dalloway, long after I’ve DNF’d them!

 

lolita#3 The shame– this is kind of a combination of #1 and #2. I feel an overwhelming sense of failure if I can’t make it through a book I’m not enjoying (which is rather silly, since this is a hobby, not a job!) I also don’t like the idea of admitting I couldn’t make it to the end of a book. Thus, I tend to power through, long after I should’ve just called it quits.

 

a separate peace#4 For work/uni– of course, sometimes I am obliged to finish something whether I want to or not. And that kinda sucks, especially in the case of Lolita or even a Separate Peace, but it’s part and parcel of life- sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to do.

 

NutshellMcEwan#5 So I can review it– this is in part another sense of obligation (though of course I rarely do ARCs and more rarely still dislike them). However, it also comes down to the fact that I take (a twisted kind of) pleasure in being able to drag a book I didn’t enjoy. And how could I review something properly if I haven’t finished it? Of course, I could just review what I’ve read so far or *shock horror* not bother to review it at all… which I actually do with a fair amount of books I’ve finished anyway 😉 (plus, if the reason I didn’t like it is because I was bored, I won’t have much to say regardless!)

magician's guild#6 The occasional book that proves me right. We’ve all been there once or twice: picked up a book, found ourselves hating it, yet *miraculously* just as we’re about to throw the book at a wall or coming to the final act, the book rewards our patience and we end up loving it. For me, the most memorable example was Magician’s Guild– a book I’m still a bit meh about, but a series I’m crazy for! If I’d given up on that, I’d have really missed out (there’s that FOMO again) so with that in mind, I sometimes push on.

bringing down the duke#7 If I really like the concept. This goes hand in hand with the last one. If I saw something in the concept and have faith in the story, then I’m going to have a tough time giving up on it (especially if it was super hyped!) I can keep going as long as I have the merest glimmer of hope (…which is sadly so infrequently rewarded).

 

ordinary men#8 Some books are hard, but that doesn’t mean they’re not worthwhile. Similarly to #7, I do like to pick up the odd challenging book and that can have its downsides. A book can be tough for any number of reasons- difficult subject matter, complex writing etc. Often, it is for the best that I power through, even if I’m not enjoying it… but then, with books like Ordinary Men and Gulag Archipelago they’re not exactly meant to be enjoyed. And that’s okay- I just have to be a bit more prepared to persevere with those books and remember why I’m trying to read them in the first place.

happily ever after#9 I may have been in the wrong mood when I picked it up. As a self-confessed mood reader, I’ve had this on numerous occasions. And it doesn’t help that I don’t always recognise what I’m in the mood for… or in some cases ignore my mood entirely. Recently, I felt like reading thrillers, but with everything going on I convinced myself I must want to pick up fluffy contemporaries. All this did was make me slumpy (and make me give up on two contemporaries in a row: Happily Ever After and V is for Virgin). What a waste of reading time!

Now that I think about it, most of these are pretty positive reasons to keep going… it’s just those handful of times that I’m clinging to a book longer than I should. I know that if I’m only reading something out of a sense of misplaced shame or FOMO, that’s not good enough. And I have to recognise that if I’m in the wrong mood or it’s just not clicking, I may have to abandon it for the time being (or maybe I should just cut my losses). Ultimately, I have to be honest with myself and DNF for the right reasons.

So, how about you? Do you struggle with DNFing? Why? Or, if you are an experienced DNFer, what are your secrets? Let me know in the comments!

The Power of Catharsis

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Ah catharsis- what a painful topic 😉 Put simply, it is the purging or purification of emotions through art. Or to put it even more simply, if we’ve had a good old cathartic cry, then we know a piece of art has done its job… or is that just me? 😉 Naturally, every good story should have some form of catharsis, whether it ends happily or not- yet it is most readily noticeable in tragedies or tragic turns.

On one level, I see it as a way to emote and empathise. Catharsis can be educational; it can teach you to walk in someone else’s shoes, to feel what they feel, to see the world through their eyes. Not, of course, in a sensational or gratuitous sense- though such styles are hard to define, we all know melodrama when we see it and can tell if a plot point is empty of substance. No, I’m talking about the stories that really touch us, that make us wonder about the world, that shift our perspective. It’s through these moving stories that we can see there is as much beauty and meaning in sadness as there is in joy.

Yet catharsis, in my view, goes much further than simply helping you see things from someone else’s point of view. Sometimes, I’ve found, catharsis acts as a coping mechanism. Now, this is perhaps a grand and unsubstantiated claim- I can only speak from my own experience after all- but I’ve often sought solace in books to deal with bad experiences. Some wholly disagree with my perspective on this- they say, as I found when I wrote my trigger warnings piece, that people ought to be protected from their traumas or unpleasant memories. While I sympathise with the sentiment, I cannot say I completely agree. Life has its ups and downs and everyone must learn to handle it differently- and sometimes the safest way to do that is through a good book. For many of us, catharsis is a more therapeutic action, a useful tool to get past pain. Sometimes the knowledge is worth having- even if we have to go through a painful experience in order to get it.

thirteen reasons whyGoodness knows, I’m not saying “don’t critique art” (where would I be if that were the case?). However, I do think it would be good to be more mindful about trampling all over something that may bring others peace. Way back when, for instance, I had strong objections to the portrayal of depression and suicide in Thirteen Reasons Why– nevertheless what I have thought more and more since (especially as the show gained notoriety) is how the voices of those it helped get drowned out in the cacophony of criticism. As much as I think it is a good idea to break down the misconceptions that arise from some art, it does not do to negate it entirely.

outlanderEven more so, I notice that there’s a lack of moderation. If a piece of art offends- well then, it must have done something evil and must be destroyed. I feel like objectivity has gone out the window in these cases. Sure, it may not be relatable to your individual experience and it may not be great representation- but sometimes I think we could do with taking a step back. There have been times when I thought a piece of media went too far, though I understood at the time that it was me and my interpretation. It is okay to dislike something without resorting to *ALL OUT WAR*.

Personally, I am against sanitising art, regardless of taste. Making art more palatable robs it of meaning and power. It robs people of their chance to process pain and denies others their chance to understand it. Yes, this may mean there are books out there which make us uncomfortable, that we struggle to digest, that do not sit well- nonetheless, ultimately, we are all better off for their existence. Without these tricky tomes, we may never understand the true power of catharsis.

So, what do you think? Do you believe in the power of catharsis? Or should art be more sanitised? Let me know in the comments!

Sorry, but “you read too much YA” isn’t an insult

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Sooo you know how I’ve come out swinging lately about how not everything is YA? Well, I’m here today to tell you that it doesn’t matter anyway! Because, as much as I like being precise about what is and isn’t YA, I don’t really think it matters in the grand scheme of things. I love YA, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with reading entirely YA and it most certainly isn’t an insult to say “you read too much YA” (which incidentally is what prompted me to do these posts, so thank you kind stranger for the content!) Aside from making me wonder “how much is too much” and “what even is YA”, I also just don’t think it’s a very valid criticism- and here’s why:

meanBook snobbery ain’t cool– okay, so maybe YA just isn’t for you, maybe you don’t fit into the target demographic and maybe you don’t want to read it- but guess what? No one’s asking you to! At this point, I’m gonna come out and say it: it comes across as incredibly judgemental to tell other people off for their reading tastes. I just think WHOA to the unnecessary shaming, that this is telling of some deep feelings of inadequacy and maybe (just maybe) you’ve got a stick up your butt 😉

yayYA ROCKS! I could wax lyrical about how awesome YA is- in fact, I’ve done it before and I’m gonna do it again! YA is innovative, modern and imaginative! It’s pacey, exciting and entertaining! It’s full of youthful optimism and gives us the *feels*. If you’re looking for heightened emotions and the promise of some intense catharsis, you can’t really go wrong with YA.

that's deepIt’s also much deeper than you think– let’s be real, if you denigrate all of YA, your ignorance is showing. Children’s literature has always been an experimental gateway- from the Hobbit to Phantom Tollbooth to Alice in Wonderland to A Wrinkle in Time, we’ve understood that children’s stories can be just as important as adult novels. Likewise, YA has cracked fields of fantasy, dystopia and sci fi wide open. Books like Illuminae show us that stories can be told in an alternative format. Books like Northern Lights explore philosophy and theology. Books like Hunger Games help us explore the issues of our time. Books like One Word Kill explore maths and theoretical physics for goodness sakes! To say that it is shallow is simply daft (and, I know I said critics don’t have to read YA, but maybe if you read some, you might actually learn something 😉)

choose booksNot everything is YA– sorry to harp on, but as I discussed recently there’s a lot of misconceptions about what is and isn’t YA. Given that it’s such a broad and all-encompassing category, how could you feasibly say it’s all bad? Which brings me onto…

spaceYA is limitless– it’s not actually a genre, it’s a marketing category. That means it’s not constrained to one type of book. YA is open to readers of all ages, all interests and all personalities. And that’s why I find it so strangely amusing that people will turn their noses up at it. YA doesn’t limit itself- so why should you?

So, what do you think? Would you be insulted if someone said you read too much YA? Do you like reading YA? Let me know in the comments!

No, it’s not YA

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What even is YA? The question comes up over and over- and for those of you experiencing déjà vu, yes, I have talked about this before. Yet recently it came to my attention again when Alix Harrow was talking on twitter about how her book wasn’t YA.

Now I found this interesting on many fronts. Firstly, because I understand this author’s frustration. It’s beginning to irritate me too that there’s this “assumption of YA”. On a personal level, I notice that because I read a lot of YA, somehow all the books I read are assumed to be YA, despite the numbers being closer to 60:40 adult to YA (funnily enough, I even had a list that included Austen, Dostoevsky and Frankl labelled YA!) And anecdotally speaking, I’ve seen countless adult fantasy books- like Circe– end up shelved in the YA section at libraries. Plus, plenty of authors find they have to take to twitter to tell people that no, their book is in fact not YA.

Just some examples of the kinds of books that get labelled YA, though they might not necessarily be YA, are:

  • Books written by authors who previously wrote YA (as Jay Kristoff has found).
  • Fantasy by women- especially if they’ve previously written in YA (aka Priory of the Orange Tree).
  • Fantasy in general (cos I don’t know why you’d think Tolkien is YA otherwise!)
  • Books with a female protagonist on the cover (cos that’s the only reason I think you can mistake Book of the Ancestor for YA!)
  • Books read by women- especially if said woman reads YA 😉
  • Books with teen protagonists (like the Farseer series)
  • Middle grade- especially with a hint of romance (Percy Jackson, Harry Potter)

So yeah, none of these are YA:

And that’s by no means an extensive list. I have my theories why this is- anything from genre snobbery to ignorance to misunderstandings. Assuming it’s the latter, the problem I’m increasingly finding is that the term is nebulous to begin with. To take Ten Thousand Doors of January as an example, there are more than a few reasons why people might mistake it for YA: it’s a coming of age story, with a young protagonist, has age-appropriate content, the kind of cover typical of a lot of current YA and was blurbed by some YA authors. Personally, I’d have no problem giving this to a teen. And this is not the only case- if a teen was interested in fantasy, why not give them Sanderson? Or Tolkien? Or Jordan? And I know there’s been debate around this, but regardless of what category it’s in, teens seem comfortable reading Schwab.

Thinking of YA as a marketing category, I can see why it might be expanded as much as possible. To my mind, then, if the audience is there, why not just put as many books into this group, as long as it fits the barometer of “suitable for teens”? What I am finding tricky to get my head round is how often even this isn’t taken into consideration. Because on the flipside of seeing that more books could easily be considered YA, I do still have some confusion that certain books are classed as YA (again, not that teens should be stopped from reading them, just that maybe not everything should be marketed directly to teens). Last year, Serpent and Dove was published by Harper Teen- though to my mind (as much as I enjoyed it) there’s little beyond the age of the protagonist marking it as YA. Likewise, not to sound like a broken record, but I still don’t agree with the classification of ACOTAR as YA. And just to make the point that it’s not just about sexual content, I’m not especially convinced of Queen’s Thief being YA, partly cos that has some X-Rated violence (but also cos there’s legit nothing YA about it except the ages… yet still it ends up in the YA section- someone explain this to me please!). The classification seems so arbitrary that it’s becoming an impossible game of spot-the-difference! I’m not sure, if I didn’t know the answer in advance, that I could pick the YA out of this lineup:

So, I’m finding that I have less of a comfortable answer for “what even is YA” than I did a year ago! Which is a turnout for the books 😉

What do you all think? Do you have a clear grasp of what YA is? Or are you increasingly as lost as I am? Let me know in the comments!

How Much Does My Taste Follow the Crowd? Thoughts on Goodreads Choice Awards

thoughts orangutan

I’ve been watching the Goodreads Choice Awards from the side-lines for years. Sometimes I vote in a couple of categories, sometimes I pick up the odd book, but mostly I just see it in my periphery as a vague recommendation of books I’ve already heard everyone raving about. When I got to thinking about it this year, I realised that the vast majority I see on there aren’t interesting to me, despite being in categories I read. Since this is a popularity contest, this got me to wondering… does my taste follow the crowd? I decided to do an experiment, looking back on the last 5 years of Goodreads Choice Awards (which correlates with how long I’ve been blogging), putting it into a spreadsheet and calculating how many books I liked/disliked/am uninterested in… because I am just that dorky 😉 And my results were…

goodreads choice awards

Interesting. As you can see, the vast majority, I don’t want to read. And that’s pretty much what I suggested going in. One thing of note was that I found I was less interested the further back I went (going from not interested in 68% of 2019 contenders to 80% of the selection from 2015). This makes sense to me, since blogging has exposed me to a lot more of these books.

goodreads choice awards by genre

Now, of course, the categories I covered were only those I was already interested in- but even among those were huge differences. What I found was that I tend to read a lot more from particular categories, yet ignore others. While I do read general adult fiction, I’m usually as likely to dislike them as to enjoy them, so I don’t pay too much attention to the suggestions. I consistently found I picked up more modern YA, particularly YA fantasy, than any other genre. What’s interesting there is how YA is only 40% of my reading on average… suggesting that the adult books I’m choosing are less popular, older or outside the range of the Goodreads Choice Awards (well, not just suggesting, this is an informed guess based on all the data I’ve gathered over the years 😉) Of course, there were also lots of books in genres I don’t typically read, which I also liked (a few memoirs like Educated and humorous reads like I, Partridge). Plus, I didn’t count graphic novels, because that’s more of a newer interest and I didn’t want to skew the results, but there were *loads* of recent releases I was interested in there.

The most significant find was that when I do pick up these books, I tend to like them more often than not (15% liked as opposed to 6% disliked). Again, there’s a difference in which genres I like more- I’m far more likely to enjoy the fantasy or YA fantasy picks than the fiction category… which, again, tells you why I keep picking those up. It seems like I’m largely choosing the right ones for me from the selection.

And that’s my biggest takeaway from this (perhaps very random) experiment. If you do choose to read books from the Goodreads choice award, then try to be specific. And if you do choose less popular books or just don’t want to read any of these, then that’s great too! The important thing is to read what you want- regardless of what everyone else is reading.

So, what do you think of my results? Do you have a similar reaction to the Goodreads Choice Awards? Let me know in the comments!